Telluride Inside…and Out, Denver: Facebook, Death and the NTC

Telluride Inside…and Out, Denver: Facebook, Death and the NTC

Editor's note: Tracy Shaffer continues her insider's look at our sister city, Denver. This post is an obituary, sorta, but a hopeful one.

Denver theatre closes a door…

by Tracy Shaffer

I have a feeling except for my inner circle, most of the people who know me will learn of my death on Facebook. That's how I hear of demise these days.

This week the Denver Center Theatre rang the death knell for the National Theatre Conservatory, announcing its closing after the class of 2012 graduates. The Denver community is stunned and angry, begs for answers, yet the optimist in me believes a rebirth is at hand. Perhaps, I tell myself, this "death" is like the death of the legendary Phoenix: a new and improved NTC will rise from the ashes.

Created in 1984, the NTC was the baby of former Denver Center artistic Director Donovan Marley, whose vision for sustaining the future of the theatre involved impeccable training of its actors. The three-year, tuition-free MFA program brought much to the nascent theatre company, raising its national profile and prestige. The bright young students got to work within the Acting Company during their third year to accrue union credits toward equity cards. Mentored by senior company members, they kept us all young and connected to the reasons we began our own journeys in to the acting profession. The impact of the talented alumni on the Denver theatre community and far beyond is quite impressive: NTC students grace the Broadway stages and national touring productions and star in TV shows. More than a few have started thriving theatre companies of their own.

From the outside the Denver Center's decision feels like a drastic step, but the post 9/11 years have taken a toll on the arts. Since then, the Denver Center has made adjustments to production budgets, cut jobs, and reorganized the way the Conservatory was managed in a valiant effort to keep it alive within a difficult economic climate. Though I cannot explain their decision, I am certain that the “Powers That Be” within the Denver Center considered their options carefully before slashing this jewel. We all hope that because of its congressional charter, the National Conservatory may yet be resurrected.

I’m not in favor of closing the NTC, but let’s not take our eyes off the good that is happening at the Denver Center. The vision of artistic director Kent Thompson includes the New Play Summit to nurture new talent. Thompson fearlessly took on the risky commitment of a nationally recognized new play development program, commissioning new works from 20 recognized and emergent playwrights. If there must be a budget-driven choice, is it fair to say the future of the American theatre is enriched more by investing in acting talent than in writing talent? As a playwright myself, I might be slightly biased, but I do think finding new stories and discovering new ways to tell them may be the best way to cultivate new audiences, ensuring the health of the theatre, and the employment of its artists.

For years I’ve heard an endless drone of white noise, people grousing about how the Denver Center was hermetically sealed to local talent, but that has changed. Through the efforts of Mr. Thompson, Bruce Sevy and former DCTC casting director Sylvia Gregory, many talented Denver actors have been employed by the Denver Center recently. A great deal of interest has been paid to our talent pool and I believe that we’ll see more of it.

Perhaps instead of seeing loss and feeling anger about the Conservatory, we should focus on the gifts we’ve been given and the rebirth ahead. There is a lot to stay excited about in Colorado theatre and not only at the Denver Center. The lights may dim on the Conservatory, a subject that has washed through the water cooler that is social media, but life will go on. And if you hear of my untimely demise via Facebook, please keep the wise cracks to a minimum.

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